Since the first round of lockdowns ended and people around the world were let back into the open, governments have been forced to constantly assess and reassess choices of how much freedom to grant their respective populations. No doubt, we know more about the virus than during the pandemics deadly peak in April and May, but the most important questions (What containment measures are the most efficient? When will we have a vaccine? Masks!?) are still cloaked in uncertainty. Authorities are still grappling with the same life-and-death policy choices as six months ago, though updated the second time around. Here are five key things governments must weigh as a possible second wave looms:
THE ECONOMY With international organizations and individual countries still assessing the economic impact of the pandemic, most governments have ruled out the possibility of a second round of full lockdowns. But national leaders are still walking the tightrope between economic recovery and limiting loss of life, while also having to manage popular opposition and unrest.
- In France, where President Emmanuel Macron has said that the French economy could not withstand another strict nationwide quarantine after the March-to-May lockdown, partial restrictions have been rolled out instead. Bars and restaurants were closed in southern cities Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, while in other big cities such as Paris, Lille, Bordeaux and Lyon, a partial closure has been imposed between 10 pm and 6 am. Le Figaro reports that the closures have prompted protests in Marseilles, with 100 workers blocking a tunnel on Monday and other bar and restaurant owners threatening to defy the ban.
- Israel remains the only country to have reimposed a country-wide lockdown, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing a three-week quarantine in mid-September. The move prompted the resignation of ultra-Orthodox Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman, who said the measures would prevent Jews from attending synagogue over the upcoming Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur holiday, The Times of Israel reports.
- In Manaou, the largest city in Brazil's Amazon region, bars and river beaches have been closed to contain a new virus outbreak. Manaou is one of the cities hardest-hit by the pandemic, with so many residents dying in April and May that hospitals collapsed and cemeteries ran out of grave slots. As nearly half the city's population tested positive in June, many hoped that Manaou would have reached herd immunity. But Mayor Arthur Virgílio Neto recently proposed a new two-week lockdown, as new infections reached 1,627 between September 24 and 28 — a 30% increase compared to the same period in August.
FACE MASKS The first months of the pandemic were a constant alternation between mask on and mask off, partly because of scientific uncertainty and partly because of supply shortages. Today, most governments view strong pro-mask policies as a viable way to limit the spread, but are choosing different approaches.
- In Finland, where deaths have remained low throughout the pandemic, 800 people have been infected in the last two weeks. As the national health authorities predict a continued spread in the near future, mask-wearing has been made mandatory in most parts of the country.
- In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has picked the more surgical approach of making masks compulsory in certain locations, including shops, supermarkets, takeaway restaurants, places of worship, cinemas and museums. This week, as cases continued to surge, the government added taxis to the list. "Your harmless cough can be someone else's death knell," Johnson declared on Tuesday.
- A third approach has been taken in Italy, where Corriere Della Sera reports that masks are now obligatory in certain regions. Last week, the region of Campania was added to the list, which includes Italy's third-largest city, Naples.
In the UK, masks compulsory in certain locations — Photo: Alex Lentati/London News Pictures/ZUMA
NURSING HOMES Nowhere is infection control more of a life-or-death matter than in elderly care centers. In Sweden, nearly half of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes; while in the U.S., The New York Times reported in June that nearly 40% of total deaths were linked to nursing homes. But with no end to the pandemic in sight, governments and local authorities are forced to balance the risk of letting people visit elderly family and loved ones in the face of the prospect of isolating them again.
- In Sweden, where nursing homes have been opened to visitors October 1, no major breakouts have occurred. State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has assessed the risk of spread as very low, granted that sanitary guidelines are followed — adding that infections have shifted to occur mostly among young people, reports Dagens Nyheter.
- In Italy, authorities have chosen to open common areas to visitors while still holding that the best way to protect the elderly is for visitors to not enter. Yet, opening the doors was deemed a necessity, partly because residents won't be able to enjoy the gardens and outdoor spaces when winter arrives, Il Post reports. The visits still have to be organized beforehand, and extra precautions like frequent testing and rigorous safety protocols are kept in place.
SCHOOLS Denmark was the first country in Europe to reopen its primary schools in mid-April after containing the virus, with only 650 deaths to date. The Nordic country's successful strategy of split classes, outdoor lessons, and strict rules for hand-washing and distancing has become a global model. But there is no accepted model right now as the threat of a second wave coincides with the back-to-school season and the virus increasingly spreading disproportionately among younger people.
- In the South Korean capital Seoul and nearby areas, schools resumed in-person classes on September 21 following a month-long closure. While daily COVID-19 cases have dropped to the lowest levels since mid-August, students are still under a hybrid regimen of in-person and online classes, with in-person classes limited to once or twice a week, Channel News Asia reports.
- France has stuck with a nationwide everyone-back-to-class policy even as cases have shot above 10,000 per day. Indeed, the highest proportion of so-called "clusters" of COVID concentrations, approximately one-third, are in schools and universities, reports Le Monde.
- In South Africa — the country with most deaths on the continent — schools were reopened Aug. 1 following delays as teachers' unions claimed schools lacked sufficient health and hygiene measures to keep educators and pupils safe. While students have now returned to the classroom, many public schools are in poor shape and analysts say that a quarter of them have no running water, making adequate hand-washing impossible, according to Africa News.
France has stuck with a nationwide everyone-back-to-class policy — Photo: Aurelien Morissard/Xinhua/ZUMA
BORDERS Beyond the choices about what to do nationally is another key question: opening up international borders. dilemma as other countries pondering the reopening of their borders.
- Morocco implemented one of the world's strictest border lockdowns, but the country's economy has been dealt a serious blow, especially its tourism industry, which accounts for 7% of its GDP. Tourism professionals have been urging the government to allow travelers back into the country, as the industry experienced enormous losses during the lockdown, with a drop of $1.2 billion in revenue in the first half of 2020. The city of Marrakech, empty of tourists, looks like a "ghost town," Le Monde reports.
- On Sept.19, Finland finally eased the tightest travel restrictions in Europe and now allows low-risk countries as well as important trade partners to enter the country, Finish site Yle reports. The loosened restrictions now allow travelers arriving from Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Poland, Germany and Cyprus, as well as residents of Australia, Canada and Japan traveling from their home country to Finland.
- Despite economic pressure, others are not so keen to reopen their borders. This is the case for Canada, as its neighbor, the U.S. is registering the highest number of cases in the world with over 7.4 million infections and highest number of deaths with over 210,000 fatalities. In mid-September the six-months-long closure of the world's longest land border, between the two countries, to "discretionary" travel was extended to at least until Oct. 21.
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